Collapsed - Chapter 2 (Pt. 2)


In 1999 the reconstructed Polynesian sailing canoe Hokuk'a succeeded in reaching Easter from Mangareva after a voyage of 17 days. To us modern landlubbers, it is literally incredible that canoe voyagers sailing east from Mangareva could have had the good luck to hit an island

only nine miles wide from north to south after such a long voyage.

However, Polynesians knew how to anticipate an island long before land

became visible, from the flocks of nesting seabirds that fly out over a radius

of a hundred miles from land to forage. Thus, the effective diameter of

Easter (originally home to some of the largest seabird colonies in the whole

Pacific) would have been a respectable 200 miles to Polynesian canoevoyagers,

rather than a mere nine.

Easter Islanders themselves have a tradition that the leader of the expedition to

settle their island was a chief named Hotu Matu'a ("the Great Parent") sailing in

one or two large canoes with his wife, six sons, and extended family. (European

visitors in the late 1800s and early 1900s recorded many oral traditions from

surviving islanders, and those traditions contain much evidently reliable

information about life on Easter in the century or so before European arrival, but

it is uncertain whether the traditions accurately preserve details about events a

thousand years earlier.)

We shall see (Chapter 3) that the populations of many

other Polynesian islands remained in contact with each other through regular

interisland two-way voyaging after their initial discovery and settlement. Might

that also have been true of Easter, and might other canoes have arrived after

Hotu Matu'a? Archaeologist Roger Green has suggested that possibility for

Easter, on the basis of similarities between some Easter tool styles and the styles

of Mangarevan tools at a time several centuries after Easter's settlement.


that possibility, however, stands Easter's traditional lack of dogs, pigs, and some

typical Polynesian crops that one might have expected subsequent voyagers to

have brought if those animals and crops had by chance failed to survive in Hotu

Matu'a's canoe or had died out soon after his arrival.

 In addition, we shall see in the next chapter that finds of numerous tools made of stone whose chemical composition is distinctive for one island, turning up on another island,

unequivocally prove interisland voyaging between the Marquesas, Pitcairn,

Henderson, Mangareva, and Societies, but no stone of Easter origin has been

found on any other island or vice versa.

 Thus, Easter Islanders may have remained effectively completely isolated at the end of the world, with no contact with outsiders for the thousand years or so separating Hotu Matu'a's arrival from

Roggeveen's. Given that East Polynesia's main islands may have been settled around A.D.

600-800, when was Easter itself occupied? There is considerable

uncertainty about the date, as there is for the settlement of the main islands.

The published literature on Easter Island often mentions possible evidence

for settlement at A.D. 300-400, based especially on calculations of language

divergence times by the technique known as glottochronology…


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